Past Teaching TIPS

Week 1: Here are two strategies for writing quality multiple-choice questions:

  1. Reflecting, Reflecting… This semester ends and a new semester begins. Sometimes it can be hard to squeeze in a moment to think about the last semester and what went well and not so well. In fact, we often get caught in a cycle of constant completion with little room for change. Make time to not only reflect, but recharge after the semester. Sometimes a quick weekend away from the computer and e-mail is what you need to come back ready to look through your notes, think about your assignments, and try new strategies.
  2. Think through the design. Course design is rarely something we are taught – some lucky few have had courses or mentors to help them think through designing a course from the ground up. Course design is essential to quality teaching – a great teacher with a poorly designed course can be immobilized in their work. There are a number of approaches to designing your course, however, redesigning a course can sometimes be harder. What to keep? What to change? all loom in the distance. The best strategies start with your learning outcomes. Looking at the learning outcomes for the course and thinking through how you will measure those outcomes can help you develop a road map for the activities in your course.

For more strategies, check out Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching and their list of teaching strategies (click here). And join us for a day with Dr. Todd Zakrajsek as he presents forward and accessible approaches to course design and assessment (May 3, see description below).


Week 2: Here are two strategies for getting the most out of the start of a class session:

  1. Open with a question. Try to have a significant question for the day on the board or an opening slide. It gives students something to consider – other than their phones – while you wait to start class, and it can help orient them for the day. You might even let students give preliminary answers for a few moments, and then again in the closing minutes, to help them recognize how their understanding has deepened over the class period.
  2. Reactivate prior knowledge. Ask what your students might know about the day’s material from previous courses or experiences. Asking students to tell you what they already know (or think they know) has two important benefits. First, it lights up the parts of their brains that connect to your course material, so when they encounter new material, they will process it in a richer knowledge context. Second, it lets you know what preconceptions students have about your course material. That way, your lecture, discussion, or whatever you plan for class that day can specifically deal with and improve upon the knowledge actually in the room, rather than the knowledge you imagine to be in the room.

You can read more in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education.


Week 3: As we get into the rhythm of the semester, it can be jarring to get a question about something that you thought had been clear for weeks. Here are a few helpful ways of reminding ourselves about the clarity of our explanations to our students:

  1. Pace at the speed of the learner. Explanations suffer when we get caught in the too-much- content, too-little-time bind. Not all students learn at the same pace. Some get it the first time they hear it; others need to hear it, hear it in a different form, think about it, and then hear it again. This calls for purposeful decision making regarding the importance of what’s being explained. If it is a foundational concept or an idea that integrates a whole content chunk, then it should be presented at a pace that enables understanding by as many students as possible.
  2. Reconstitute or repeat without hints of frustration or doubts about the learner. Hearing an explanation and not understanding it is frustrating. Having to ask to hear it again and still not getting it is embarrassing. At that point, most students (and a lot of the rest of us) just fake it. We nod, smile, and say thank you as our minds race, still trying to figure it out. An explanation is justifiably called “clear” only when it results in understanding.

You can read more tips in this blog post from the Teaching Professor at Faculty Focus.


Week 4: Here are a couple tips for presenting content online, whether you are leading an online course or experimenting with content delivery for a flipped classroom:

  1. Write a script for each concept. Speaking off-the-cuff may work in a classroom, but it doesn’t online. Scripting forces you to organize the presentation of your material—to make sure you don’t leave anything out or throw in anything extra. It also gives you time to think about the most effective approach to convey material in the highly visual online environment.
  2. Rework your PowerPoint slides to act as a storyboard for your script. Your PowerPoint slides should contain mostly visuals; you’ll need to reduce text to a few words per screen at most. Animations (like your recorded PowerPoints) are good at conveying visual information; they aren’t good at conveying text information. Any text that appears on the screen should be the “take-aways” or critical notes you would expect students to take, not explanations or nice-to-have details.

You can read more tips in this article from Faculty Focus.


Click here to view past tips from the 2016-2017 Academic Year

Week 1: Here are three quick tips to use in any classroom:

  1. Use the silence: A good journalism trick – if you wait long enough, someone will eventually fill the silence and usually with something they find pretty useful.
  2. Get feedback from your students mid-semester: Asking students what’s working, what’s not, and what other techniques might help them learn better is a quick way for you to get instant feedback on your teaching. It’s also a great way to help your students become reflective on the learning process.
  3. Model learning: Moving from the all-knowing sage on the stage can be hard, but it is a good reminder to our students that learning is lifelong process. Let the students in on your thoughts as you decide how to convey material. An important part of the learning process is sharing with students the struggles of balancing what they need to know with all you know.

Looking for more? The Walker Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Tennessee: Chattanooga has 25 more teaching tips. Click here to read.

Week 2: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when thinking about culturally responsive teaching:

  1. Establishing Inclusion. Helping your students set up groups and collaborative projects is often a quick way to get students engaged in class. Start by helping the groups set up ground rules for positive shared learning experience. This is also great for courses that use a lot of discussion. (for more – check out the work of Wldowoski & Ginsberg)
  2. Using the Cultural Wealth. Our students are coming to class with a variety of personal experiences and talents – many of which do not easily fit on a test. Moving to a mindset that includes what students bring to the classroom can change the classroom experience. Keep in mind all the potential capital students bring – family, aspirations, social, and resiliency. (for more – check out the work of Tara Yosso).

Week 3: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when using active learning:

  1. Share the heavy lifting. Students often look to us as the fountain of all things knowledge, but in reality we want them to engage with the learning process. By sharing the heavy lifting of learning from you as the faculty member to the students in the classroom – you are shifting from “teaching to learning” (Barr & Tagg). This can be done through a number of approaches – but the key is to have students be active in the learning process. (for more – check out the work of Robert Barr & John Tagg)
  2. Engaging students. There are a lot of ways to engage students in the classroom – both positive and negative. However, it may be easiest to start with clear expectations with how to define engagement. Providing students with clear expectations on participating in the learning process is a quick way to help them actually engage. Moreover, think about diversifying how students engage – add opportunities for students to shine in a way that makes sense to their learning style (verbally, in writing, in small group, etc). (for more – check out Maryellen Weimer’s blog for Faculty Focus).

Week 4: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when thinking about student motivation:

  1. Teach by discovery. Developing activities for students to engage in the process of discovering knowledge is a key way to make your class a can’t miss opportunity. Activities that require students to discover, develop, and apply concepts is a great way to get students engaged, but also provide them with content they cannot get anywhere else. Think about team-based activities, case studies, role plays, problem-based activities as possible ways to move your classroom to discovery-mode.
  2. Making Choices. We all stay more engaged in activities that we feel we had some choice in doing. The classroom experience is no different. It might not always be possible, but as opportunities arise for flexibility – offer students control over how they demonstrate their understanding of the course material. This could be in allowing the students to choose project topics within the context of the course, or allowing students to decide how a project or assessment of learning is delivered (e.g. paper, presentation, or video). The more control students have in demonstrating their learning, the more engaged they will be.

For more tips on motivation – check out Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching’s Guide on Motivating Students (click here).

week5: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when developing active learning:

  1. Solve a problem. Independent, critical and creative thinking are developed when students are asked to analyze and apply material. Case-studies, role plays, and opportunities for students to “apply” the course content to larger problems is an excellent way for students to be actively engaged with the material.
  2. Talk to your peer. Asking students to talk about topics and course content with each other is a key step in learning and student success (Tinto, 2012). Finding ways to put students in dialogue with the material and each other is key to active learning. Small group, peer-to-peer, etc are great ways to get students thinking.

Find more tips on active learning at Standford University’s Teaching Commons (click here).

Week 6: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when utilizing groups:

  1. Why do we use groups? Many students (and faculty) have reservations about using group work in the classroom – sometimes one person does the heavy-lifting. It is important to share with your students why group work matters, why you are using it as a strategy in this course, and your expectations for division of labor.
  2. Five is a magic number. Deciding how big or how small a group needs to be can be part of the challenge. Try to avoid even numbers, as it allows students to pair off. Triads can often find someone on the outside looking in. Groups of five tend to be the magic number for in class group work. For online group work, larger groups are best – seven to nine.

Find more tips on effective group work at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence (click here).

Week 7: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when facilitating discussion:

  1. This isn’t just free time? One of the most forgotten strategies for using discussion is telling the students why you are using discussion as a teaching method for this course. A lot of students think “class discussion” means they are not learning – since you are not lecturing. However, sharing with them the value of discussing concepts with their peers, gaining new perspectives, and developing a deeper understanding all come back to helping them succeed in your course.
  2. Don’t jump the gun. Sometimes as instructors we are so comfortable with a topic that it is hard to remember that students need a moment to formulate their answer. Even when students look back at you puzzled or with apathy – do not give in and answer your own question. A common strategy is to have students think about the question on their own, writing down their response or jotting a few notes. Others reframe the question when students seem to be struggling to come up with a response. You cannot be afraid of a little awkward silence.

Find more tips on effective group work at the Washington University in St. Louis’ The Teaching Center (click here).

Week 8: Here are two strategies to use after the exam:

  1. Why are we reviewing the test? It is important to help students think about why we review an exam. Often times, reviewing the exam is an opportunity for the student to think about how they prepared (or did not) for the exam – and make changes in time for the final.
  2. Thinking about what you don’t know, you know… There are several strategies for reviewing an exam. One strategy is to help the students think about the questions they found challenging or missed – then think about what they have in common. Is there content that the student needs to think about differently? Is there a style of question they need to practice? Helping students think about their learning is key.

Find more tips on “after the exam” in this week’s Faculty Focus Blog from the Teaching Professor (click here).

Week 9: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom for more inclusive teaching:

  1. It’s always key to start at design… Many times great teachers struggle because of how a course is designed more than how a course is delivered. The design of a course is essential to students and instructors being successful by setting a foundation that is specific, deliberate, and reflective. This is also true of inclusive teaching. Spend some time reflecting on how your course, materials, and content are constructed. Did you choose a reading because that is typically what is read in the field? Could you offer an alternative perspective? Do you have students work in groups? Have you started asking them to share with each other their own experiences? Are there spaces where you could change assignments, adjust readings, or shift the conversation to one that is more inclusive? Small changes can add up to big changes.
  2. Shifting the conversation. Several weeks ago we took a look at Tara Yosso‘s work on cultural wealth. Are there other ways to bring in multiple perspectives into your classroom? Often presenting your students with diverse philosophies, multiple truths, or even shifting your own language to more neutral descriptions of gender, race, ethnicity, etc. helps students begin thinking about the world in different ways.

Find more tips on inclusive teaching from the University of Western Washington’s Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment. Download their Inclusive Teaching Toolkit (click here).

Week 10: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom when teaching as part of General Education:

  1. Why do I have to take this class??. Teaching a General Education course can be rewarding and challenging for a number of reasons. Often times, a GEC course is a great opportunity to introduce students outside your majors to your discipline. However, this is often the challenge – students like to ask why they have to take this course? It is always helpful to start each semester explaining to your students how *this* course fits into the GEC curriculum, why GEC courses are important, and what the SLOs really mean. Students do not always see how the pieces fit together – so telling them explicitly why GEC is important, and why it is important to UNCG, is key.
  2. What employers are saying. Every few years AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities) conducts an employer survey with Hart Research Associates. They survey employers across the nation about what they are seeing or seeking in college graduates. The message has been consistent – employers want students who can communicate, work as a team, take initiative, make ethical decisions, and solve problems. Reminding students, and ourselves, that a college education is more than a sum of completed courses is important and key to their success.

Find more information on why general education is important at the AAC&U LEAP (Liberal Education & America’s Promise) Project site. Find literature, employer surveys, and high-impact practice information by clicking here.

Week 11: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom for incorporating the common read:

  1. Make the students do some research. Having students identify topics and ideas from the reading that they can relate back to the course is a great way to help students understand that courses and disciplines do not occur in a vacuum. Ask the students to then develop a presentation, lead a discussion, or reflect on these applications in class. The key is getting students making connections between the events of the book with the topics they are studying.
  2. I can counter that… Discussion can get repetitive quickly if students have been discussing the book and topics in other courses. A great way to get a new conversation going is to assign the students into groups and ask them to argue a topic from the book from a variety of angles. More specifically, assign those points and counterpoints to the groups (don’t leave it up to the students). This often forces them to think about the topic in various ways.

Find more information on how to incorporate a common read into your course by visiting the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s site (click here).

Week 12: Here are two strategies to use in any classroom as you finish this semester and prepare for the next:

  1. When will I ever use that? Sometimes students can be frustrated with difficult concepts that they do not see quick connections with the “real world” beyond the University. Never mind that they are already in the real world, but sometimes they struggle to see how a concept applies beyond the classroom. Helping students apply concepts to the world around them provides needed context, as well as lasting investment by the student. A quick example of application to Academic Service Learning can help students make connections between challenging concepts.
  2. Have you graded that yet… Students turn in a paper, project, test – and expect immediate feedback. However, this is not reality when giving quality feedback – or with other looming demands. Letting students know upfront an expected timeline for grading can save you questions of “When are we getting a grade for that?” and help your students in a number of ways. From helping them learn that waiting is part of life to calming their fears, providing a timeline can save you both. Consider putting a timeline in the syllabus, and if you are delayed in grading (which sometimes we are) share that with the students.

For more teaching tips, visit the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Tennessee- Chattanooga (click here).

Week 13: Here are two strategies to use when teaching large courses:

  1. Create opportunities for individuality. A large class makes it easy for some students to disappear into the crowd – creating opportunities for the students to showcase their individuality can go a long way. Such as gathering index cards with information from who they are to where they want to go, greeting students as they come in, or spending a few minutes before class to talk with different groups of students. These are opportunities for students to connect with you in smaller groups and can improve course participation and attendance.
  2. Set the tone. We know this is true of any class, but it is especially important in large classes. You can set a tone of conversation and curiosity by the questions you ask or your delivery. Letting students know up front how you expect each class meeting to go, how much participation you need from them, and why you are setting the class up this way can help the students get comfortable with you and the course despite its size.

For more strategies, check out UNC-C’s Survival Handbook for Teaching Large Classes (Click Here)

Week 14: Here are two strategies to get students reading what is assigned:

  1. Get to the root of the problem. Is it a matter of compliance or capacity? When you have been reading as long as we have, it can be a challenge to remember that many students are new to reading scholarship for learning. Chat with your class about the difficulty of the readings, share some tips on how to read a college text or textbook, and remind students that reading scholarly work can be challenging the first time through. Encourage your students to seek resources, such as the Student Success Center, right here on campus.
  2. Make sure you are using it. We can all remember a class or two when we bought the textbook and never opened it… don’t be that class. Consider how the reading will be used in class, on assignments, and with assessments. Try to assign the reading as close as possible to the time it is being used in the class. And spend sometime connecting the dots for students in the first few weeks – the more they can see connections between the reading and the course content, the more likely they are to get the readings done.

For more strategies, check out IDEA’s Idea Paper #40 – Getting Students to Read: Fourteen Tips (Click Here)

Week 15: Here are two strategies to incorporate self-regulated learning into your classroom:

  1. Don’t they already know this? One of the first questions we all have – did they not learn how to do this before showing up to my class? The reality is most students have not had the opportunity to learn how take ownership of their own learning. In fact, many students come to the classroom with little to no understanding, ability, or experience in the learning process. So, there is some benefit to the faculty member taking a moment to talk about strategies that help students be successful – from how to read a college textbook to “when should I really take notes” – all could be helpful.
  2. What are the steps of self-regulated learning? Right around now many students start to realize that their way of preparing for class is not working. Helping students think about their learning in three steps can be useful: setting goals, developing strategies, and reflecting on the outcome. We can help students set goals and develop strategies – often if they just came of office hours. However, incorporating this into your course benefits a much wider set of students (who may not know they need the help yet). The other piece is helping students reflect on the outcomes – many of them (and us) forget to that reflection is a key part of the learning process.

For more strategies, check out Carleton College’s SAGE 2YC Program (Click Here)

Week 16: Here are two strategies to support effective discussion in your classroom, particularly on tough topics:

  1. You set the ground rules. Many of us that use discussion-based learning do so from instinct. However, many of our students, who may even excel at discussion-based learning, have not cultivated the skills of discussion at this scholarly level. Keep in mind that setting ground rules is necessary – not only for classroom management, but also to be inclusive of all the learners. The rules become more necessary as your class size goes up. Think about your expectations of students’ responses… how would you define a good critical, scholarly response? Share this with the students, role model the level of engagement, and be clear on the question you are asking.
  2. Am I a referee? In short – no. However, a good academic discussion will likely bring a number of responses to the floor. You do need to be prepared for dealing with conflicting views – their’s and your own. You also need to help the students understand how different views are valued in the academy. For students – at all levels, you may have to explain how to take a critical self-look at personal biases that may be impacting the conversation.

For more strategies, check out The IDEA Center’s – IDEA Paper #49 (Click Here).

Week 17: Here are two strategies to get back into it after spring break:

  1. How do I keep them engaged. Those weeks after spring break can seem like a balancing act between entertainment and teaching. Regaining momentum so close to summer (and with our current weather) can be challenging for us and our students. The key is to get the students back into the swing of things and remind them that we still have half a semester to go. First, think about the last major topic you introduced before spring break. Is there a way to review that topic? A video, a game, or even a guest speaker? Any of these can break up the hum-drum approach, but also puts the class back on track.
  2. Take a moment for you. I know it can seem cliché, but spring break is just as much about you as it is about your students. Faculty need a break too – so take some time over spring break to recharge and regroup. The energy you bring to the classroom is essential to student success, and can allow you to re-engage with the material in new ways. So, take a moment to read that book that has been siting on your coffee table and come back ready for the last half of the semester.

For more strategies, check out Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. (Click Here)

Week 18: Here are two strategies for using peer feedback in class:

  1. Tell them what to look for. In reality, many students just do not know how to give feedback, or receive feedback. However, the peer review and feedback process can be one of the strongest learning experiences for our students. So, we have to show them how to provide quality peer reviews. First, we need to give students guidelines, examples, and rubrics. Walk them through how you provide feedback. Carleton College – Science Education Resource Center provides students with a quick guide to giving and receiving feedback.
  2. Help them see the value. Many students see peer feedback as something arbitrary. Their peers are not the experts, so how can their feedback be any “good”? In reality, we have to walk the students through. Talk about the value of the peer review process in your own scholarship. Remind them that peers can see and explain things in ways you cannot. More importantly, remind them that the learning process is much more than a graded assignment. The more value they see in peer review and feedback, the better their own feedback will be for their peers.

For more strategies, check out Carleton College’s site on Student Feedback.(Click Here)

Week 19: Here are two strategies for using rubrics in class:

  1. They save time! Time, it seems we never have enough of it – and grading… Rubrics are useful for helping you grade and evaluate student work. By creating a rubric you have more clarity on what you expect from the assignment. That speeds things up in two ways – one, you can better explain your expectations to students and get the work product you really want; two, you can easily identify your expectations when grading the assignments.
  2. It helps students evaluate their own learning. How many of us have been asked – is this on the test? Why do I have to do this assignment?… By creating a rubric and sharing it with your students you are helping to provide clarity through the learning process. If students can see in concrete ways how concepts apply to a broader assignment, then they are more likely to understand their own learning process and progress.

For more strategies, check out Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. (Click Here)

Week 20: Here are two strategies for creating instructional videos:

  1. Lights, Camera, Action. Creating instructional videos can be a great way for your students to see you in online courses, hybrid courses, and even face-to-face courses. They provide quick, easily accessible introductions to course content. When developing an instructional video – think about how you can “chunk” content into small manageable bites for your students. Good instructional videos tend to be on the short side and highlight the most pertinent information.
  2. Look at the camera. The first few times you record a video of yourself teaching, it can be hard to not look everywhere but at the camera. Think about what your students will see and stay focused on where the camera is located. Two tips offered by last week’s Faculty Focus: position the camera a little above your eye line so that you are looking up toward the camera (then no one has to stare up your nose) and consider putting something above the camera (a photo, an object) that you can focus on.

For more strategies, check out Faculty Focus. (Click Here)

Week 21: Here are two strategies for closing out the semester:

  1. Prioritizing when everything is a priority… During the last few weeks of the semester – everything seems to be knocking on our door (literally and figuratively). How do you prioritize when everything is a priority – you start with a plan each day. Taking a few minutes every morning to assess and plan what really needs to get done today, tomorrow, and this week, can help you feel less overwhelmed and help you focus on today’s priority. That includes this tip from Inside HigherED (2010) – Ruthlessly assess what grading ACTUALLY needs to get done”.
  2. Back-up, Back-up, Back-up. As the semester comes to an end, many of us are focused on getting through the day-to-day. It is crunch time. So, it is important to remind ourselves to back up our teaching materials – I mean literally. Creating copies of your Canvas materials, cull through old lecture and class materials, and make sure you have all you need for locking the course up for the semester.

For more strategies, check out this blog from the Chronicle of Higher Education (Click Here) or Inside HigherEd’s article on Crunch Time! (Click Here)

Week 22: Here are two strategies for revamping your course for fall:

  1. Think about when you should use multiple-choice. In reality, sometimes multiple-choice is the best testing method, sometimes it is not. There are many reasons to use multiple-choice questions – from class size to mastery level. Take time to think through why you are using multiple-choice questions, it will help you write the questions to meet your end goal.
  2. Write the stem first. The two hardest parts of writing a multiple-choice question are the question and the answer. Creating a good question with appropriate answer choices can be daunting. Start by thinking of who your students are and adjust to meet their learning. Course make-up can vary from semester to semester, so taking a moment to think through the current cohort of students can help you develop test questions that allow them to demonstrate their learning. Next create a stem – this will allow you to focus the question on a single definite problem. Writing out the question with all the necessary supporting information can help you structure the question and the answer. Then write out the correct answer to the stem. Once those are complete, it will be easier to write the incorrect response choices.

For more strategies, check out IDEA Paper #16 from IDEA (Click Here)